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Is your employee handbook ready for 2021?

By Higginbotham on December 10 , 2020

employee handbook

How can employers make sure that employees know what is expected of them? It’s not a trick question. Employee handbooks can do this and more. Just having a handbook isn’t enough, however. It must contain the right information, it must be updated regularly and – perhaps most challenging – it must be read by your employees.

Why Employee Handbooks Matter

An employee handbook might not be a legal requirement, but it’s still a good idea. A handbook is a logical way to convey important information, including company policies, employee rights, the company’s mission statement and more.

Without a handbook, employees may not understand what is required of them, leading to issues down the line. The handbook is important for supervisors, as well, to ensure that policies are enforced consistently and without discrimination.

According to the Legal Reader, properly drafting workplace policies and procedures can help businesses mitigate risk. Maintaining an employee handbook is one of the best methods a company can use to make sure everyone is on the same page.

What to Include

Companies of all sizes can benefit from an employee handbook. However, as the company grows, the handbook should grow as well. HR regulation varies based on company size, so a start-up of eight employees will be subject to different requirements than one with 100 employees. It is important to start with a legally vetted template for a company of your size and update it yearly based on changing HR regulation, which will ultimately lower your risk of high turnover and lawsuits.

Here are some of the common issues that should be addressed in a handbook:

  • Company information and mission statement
  • Harassment and discrimination policies
  • Employee complaint reporting and response procedures
  • Employee rights (FMLA, COBRA, ADA, etc.)
  • Policies on vacations, sick days, holidays, time tracking and other wage and hour issues
  • Remote work policies
  • Other policies and expectations

Reviews and Updates

An employee handbook is not a one-and-done project. It should be reviewed every year and updated as needed. It's also recommended that employers have their employees sign the handbook acknowledgement every year at open enrollment. This reminds the employees that there is a handbook, that they should read it and helps ensure that they understand what is in it and will abide by it over the course of their employment. When reviewing your company’s handbook, consider the following questions:

  • Are policy updates needed in light of new regulations or court rulings? Have the handbook reviewed for compliance with all relevant laws.

  • Has the company experienced issues or disputes that should prompt policy updates or clarifications?

  • Do company changes require policy updates? For example, the company may need new policies as it grows or as its employees switch to remote work.

Receipt and Acknowledgement

According to HR Dive, a recent study ranked getting employees to read the employee handbook as the top handbook challenge. This probably isn’t surprising to anyone in HR. However, there are a few things you can do to encourage your employees to take the handbook seriously.

  • Require employees to sign and date an acknowledgement that they have read and understand the handbook. This should be done for both new hires and annual updates to the handbook. Make sure the acknowledgements are received and filed.

  • Give employees time to read the handbook and have someone available to answer questions. When updates are made, provide an overview of these changes.

  • Employees should have access to the handbook throughout their employment. After all, even if they have read the handbook, they can’t be expected to memorize the entire thing. Providing a digital copy may be the easiest way to do this.

  • Reference the handbook as questions and issues arise. For example, if an employee has questions about the dress code, reference the relevant section in the handbook. This can help the company maintain consistency while also reinforcing the importance of the handbook.

Need help with creating or updating your employee handbook? Contact our HR Services Team.

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